If your aim for the new year is to get fit, have fun and learn something new, it could be as easy as 5, 6, 7, 8, as Amy Norbury discovers
As a nation we’ve been gripped with Strictly fever; the feel-good ballroom bonanza has resoundly trumped its noisy X Factor rival in the ratings war to waltz off with the Saturday night telly crown.
And it seems that watching our favourite celebrities and dance pros twirl their way around the floor is inspiring more and more of us to give dance a try for ourselves.
The good news is that, according to myriad studies on the effects and benefits of dancing on your overall health, it seems that hitting the dance floor for a shimmy or two is one of the most effective forms of exercise for mind, body and soul.
Whether you like to jump or jive, tap or tango, shake your hips or your booty, dancing is one of the most enjoyable ways to get moving.
The NHS says that regular dancing is great for losing weight, maintaining strong bones, improving posture and muscle strength, increasing balance and coordination and beating stress.
But where do you start?
Ceroc Addiction runs Ceroc partner dance classes around the Midlands and North West. Helmed by Maja Kocanova and her dedicated team of talented teachers and crew volunteers, Ceroc Addiction have hundreds of dancers coming through the doors each week. With a new class night starting at Brownhills Memorial Hall this month, it’s the perfect chance to grab your dance shoes, put your best foot forward and shake your groove thing on the dance floor.
Ceroc is another name for modern jive, one of the simplest forms of partner dance to learn. A fusion of a wide range of different dance styles, it is sociable and fun, and can be danced to any music with a regular beat from the latest chart hits to golden oldies. With very little footwork involved, you’ll be spinning and turning with ease after your very first half-hour beginners class.
I was first introduced to Ceroc some three years ago by a friend. A huge Strictly fan, I’d always fancied learning how to dance properly but – after a short-lived attempt at salsa – wasn’t sure where to begin.
What sets Ceroc apart from other forms of partner dancing is the ease with which you can pick it up. And, because the social aspect is just as important as the dancing itself, it means everyone in the class switches dance partners regularly – so you don’t actually need to take a partner along to join in if you don’t have one.
And then there’s the taxi dancers. These are experienced dancers who are on hand at every class night to look after the beginners, take them through a practice session after the class so they can go over the night’s moves and dance with them during the freestyle session which ends the night.
Because Ceroc isn’t a set course of lessons, there are new dancers starting every week. And it doesn’t matter if you miss a week or two because the routines covering your 12 beginner moves are rotated on an eight-week basis, meaning you’ll soon catch up.
While walking into that very first class was admittedly daunting, within the first ten minutes any fears were firmly pushed aside as we started with a basic warm-up before pairing up for the class proper. Within half an hour I’d danced with some 30 different partners and got to grips with the three moves of the beginners’ routine.
With a little help from the taxi dancers in the practice session, I really felt like I’d learned something – not to mention burned a fair few calories while spinning, twirling and whirling my way around the dance floor.
And while dancing is a great way to get fit and active, it doesn’t stop there. According to Bupa, a review of research into the effects of dance and Dance Movement Therapy on mental health and wellbeing suggested that dancing has a positive effect on our quality of life, body image and mood. It also found that DMT and dancing reduced depression and decreased anxiety.
Jordan Thompson says that dancing got her through one of the darkest periods of her life. The 23-year-old, from Lichfield, was suffering with various mental health issues when she was encouraged to give her local Ceroc class a try by her mum, Ruth, and Ruth’s partner, Scott, three years ago.
“I didn’t actually want to go, I was dragged kicking and screaming,” says Jordan. “At that particular time in my life I was in a position where I didn’t want to leave the house and it was difficult for me to even go outside without having panic attacks.
“It was terrifying, to be perfectly honest, but I just remember being made to feel really welcome by everybody. It was weird being there on my very first night and feeling like I was already part of things, like I’d been going to the class for weeks.”
No stranger to solo dancing, Jordan has studied ballet, tap and contemporary dance since the age of five. But partner dancing was a new thing entirely.
“Three years ago I wouldn’t have considered myself at a level where I could even dance with someone else, all of the dance training I’d had previously was solo,” explains Jordan.
“The idea of having to hold hands with somebody really threw me at the time, that’s how bad I was; I couldn’t even deal with human contact.
“But because of my dance experience I think people thought I was better than I was, so I was constantly getting people asking me to dance. I came home from the class thinking that it was a really good night and I’d actually really enjoyed it.”
Jordan found herself going along to classes on a more regular basis, and before she knew it, dancing was helping to drag her out of the black hole she’d found herself in.
“Dance has given me so much; when I first started it gave me something to do and something to work towards,” she says. “It got me out of the house and that was the reason I kept going. The friendships and relationships I now have, have grown from that, and they’re the reason I continue to go.
“When I started Ceroc I was in a dark place; I’d just come out of a long term relationship which ended abruptly without warning, and it put me in a position where I felt that, without that person, I was very alone. I didn’t have many friends; I had my university and work life but that was it, and I started spiralling.
“There were points where I didn’t want to get out of bed, and there were points where my mental health was so low that I did consider the worst case scenario.
“But dance has completely changed my life.”
So much so that now, Jordan and her partner Dayle Archer have taken their dancing to the next level on the competition circuit. Ceroc – and modern jive – has a series of competitions around the world where amateur and professional dancers of all ages and abilities compete for silverware in a variety of categories. The World Modern Jive Championships takes place on the hallowed floor of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, meaning competitors have the chance to follow in the fancy footsteps of their Strictly heroes.
“I never thought I’d get as far as I have,” says Jordan. “To feel like we’re doing well enough to compete is a huge thing, and to be able to get up in front of an audience and dance is not something I ever imagined I’d feel comfortable doing.
“You can dance with anyone and everyone and really enjoy it, and then there are those times when you find that person who you dance really well with and get on really well with, and it feels amazing in those situations, where you really connect with somebody, which is what I have with Dayle.”
Whether your aim is to keep fit, specialise in a new skill or simply let your hair down for the night, Ceroc is guaranteed to give you a night to remember.
“It’s the ability to combine learning with something really social,” says Jordan. “The fact that you’re encouraged to rotate partners is a genius idea, and it means you get so much more out of the experience.
“Ceroc attracts people of all ages and from all walks of life, from teenagers to people in their eighties, and with all kinds of backgrounds, which is what makes it so interesting.
“And it’s knowing that you can come along on your own and make new friends. When I started I came along with my mum or a friend because I was so socially inept I found it difficult to leave the house. But now I’m happy to go along to a class or freestyle by myself, which is a huge progression.
“At this point it feels like something I’ve always done; I can’t really remember life without Ceroc and it’s a really big part of my life.”
So if you’re looking to embrace Strictly fever, or just want to give something new a try, then why not take a chance on dance? It just might change your life.
Ceroc Addiction’s new class starts at Brownhills Memorial Hall, Lichfield Road, Brownhills, on Wednesday January 16, and the group also runs classes locally in Stafford on Tuesdays and Wolverhampton on Thursdays as well as classes and freestyle dance events further afield around the Midlands and North West. For more information visit www.ceroc.com or find Ceroc Addiction on Facebook.